5 Simple Things to Consider When Planning a School Wide RtI Meeting

While the RTI process is definitely not new, finding an effective way to develop and maintain a team for assisting students who are receiving an intervention is difficult.  In our school, fine tuning and perfecting our process is still a work in progress.  Over the last several years, we've learned a lot.  I thought I would share a post with some of the questions that you and your staff should consider as you develop your RTI team.

Who should you invite?

I think that this is a critical question and will vary from school to school.  At my current school, we have a consistent team that includes our principal, special education teacher, Title 1 teacher, and our speech and language pathologist.  We also invite the school psychologist to each meeting.  She comes when her schedule allows, but I especially love the meetings where she is able to attend.  She is incredibly insightful and provides feedback on our data and probability of them qualifying.  At my former school, we had school counselors who were able to attend.  They followed the students from the time they entered our school in kindergarten to the time they left in sixth grade.  They were extremely helpful in ensuring that the students' needs and best interest were considered in all interventions and decisions.  

Besides this core team of professionals, we also invite each grade level down to the conference room throughout the afternoon.  They each take their turn sharing students that are concerning them academically or behaviorally.  Together, we all brainstrom ideas for intervention, RTI goals, and discuss progress monitoring.  

How often should your team meet?

I recommend meeting on a regular basis to discuss data that is being collected over the course of the school year.  At my school, we meet monthly.  I find this helpful, because teachers are able to quickly share updates, data, and new strategies that they are trying.  This also allows classroom teachers to receive feedback and reassurance.  Meeting monthly can be difficult with budgets cuts and the time that teachers would be out of the classroom.  Even meeting every six or nine weeks may be a helpful alternative.

Who should be progress monitored?

Anyone receiving intervention should be progress monitored on a regular basis.  The reason for this is to prove (or disprove) that the intervention being provided to the student is effective and plan accordingly.

How often should you track data?

Many districts have predetermined requirements, such as progress monitoring on a weekly, bi-weekly, or tri-weekly basis.  If your district does not have a requirement, I believe that it is essential for the building administration to set and enforce something that will ensure all teachers are progress monitoring their students on a regular basis.  I have noticed over the years that some teachers have great routines for progress monitoring regularly.  Other teachers, show up to the meeting with data that was collected during their special that day and hasn't collected any other data points since the LAST meeting.  Consistency is really the key to collecting and monitoring data that will be helpful to identifying students down the road.

The frequency that you progress monitor each student may vary depending on the end goal.  For example, we had a group of students who had somehow made it to third grade without being identified.  We all KNEW that special education was in their future, and we really wanted to quickly collect data to prove our suspicions.  These students were progress monitored bi-weekly for the first semester and were ready to be identified during the second semester.  Whereas someone who you suspect may be a struggling student, but not low enough to qualify, you might monitor less frequently, such as once every three or four weeks.  

How will you organize your data?

Once again, many schools have a system in place for keeping and organizing student data, interventions, and RTI goals.  At our school, we use a program called PIVOT.  It definitely isn't anything fancy, but it does allow you to upload files, write goals, and describe interventions.  It is also nice for current teachers to access files from previous school years.  

I am slightly old school and like to have notebooks and file folders that allow me to add progress monitoring assessments, benchmark assessments, and fancy graphs that allow me to chart student data.  

Many schools also use Google Drive to create and share spreadsheets and files with one another.  Whatever you choose or are required to use, ensure that ALL staff members know how to utilize it effectively and are aware of the expectations.  

If you are looking for a set of graphs to monitor data, you should really check out this product!  I have created printable graphs and Excel files that will automatically generate graphs.

I also have a blog post written to help you draft effective and measurable RTI & IEP goals!  It contains a FREEBIE that my school uses to ensure teachers are writing goals that are targetting exactly what the student needs.  

I dislike the calculator accommodation! Find out why.

Today, I'm going to share my opinion on something that I seriously hope is not offensive or argumentative.  Over the last five years, I have spent a lot of time in upper elementary classrooms.  I've played two roles, a special education teacher and a general education teacher.  Regardless of my role, my opinion has remained the same.  At the elementary level, a calculator accommodation is really not necessary.  Despite that last statement, I've noticed that we tend to throw that accommodation to nearly all students with an IEP.

Who should receive a calculator accommodation?

Good question! Often times, I've heard teachers justify (or for you special education teachers writing IEPs---rationale) the calculator accommodation because a student(s) doesn't know his or her math facts.  While I can totally relate to the lack of math fact mastery, that is honestly not enough (in my opinion) to justify providing a calculator to a student.  

According to Accommodation Solutions Online, calculators should be used for students who have difficulty processing information at the same rate as their peers, but only when "math calculations are required but are not an essential learning objective".  

In upper elementary, math calculations ARE the essential learning objectives.  For the majority of the school year, upper elementary students are learning about multiplication, division, decimals, and fractions.  We ARE teaching math calculations.  Because of that, I honestly believe that we should leave the calculators to middle school students, who aren't focusing on learning and mastering computation.

What is a good substitute?

I prefer to utilize an accommodation that allows a student to access his or her own resource.  You might need to do a little researching with your special education department or curriculum director, but I have found that this accommodation is accepted.  Students are allowed create their own resource, such as a list of math facts, to be later used to complete basic math computation.  Check out my FB Live, where I detailed how I use this in my classroom!  You can also click the image above to grab this FREEBIE! :)

I really love using this accommodation, because my students are still required to LEARN the process of basic computation.  It may take my students a little while to complete a lengthy multiplication or division problem, but they are able to independently work through and understand the process.  

If you're looking to help your students master math facts at their own pace, try my Mastering Math Facts for Addition and Multiplication

How can I use math videos in my classroom?: Four Easy Ways!

I absolutely love to use math videos in my classroom.  I began creating them three years ago in order to implement a flipped classroom.  Over time, my love for math videos has evolved into something more than just homework.

1. Homework

As mentioned above, my primary use for creating math videos was for implementing a flipped classroom.  This means that my students don't do traditional homework, such as a page of practice problems for students to do independently (or with the help of frustrated parents)!  Instead, students are responsible for watching a short math video before returning to school the following day.  During math workshop, my students and I can work in small groups to practice the skill together with minimal whole group instruction.  I love that I can focus my math workshop time on differentiating and addressing very targetted student needs.  

2. Morning Work

There are many times when assigning a math video for homework isn't practical, such as the first day back from Christmas break!  In this case, I really love using math videos for morning work.  At my school, I am extremely lucky to be able to send my students home with 1:1 iPads each evening; however, not every school is that lucky.  Math videos for morning work can often be the perfect way to kick off the day and prepare students for the upcoming math block.  Plus, the room is fairly silent since my students are all using their headphones to watch the video. :)

3. Math Centers

Math videos can also be used during math centers.  Rather than spend valuable minutes teaching the lesson as a whole group or during a Guided Math group, students can "preteach" themselves the content during a math center!  This is also an excellent alternative for teachers with a handful of iPads to share amongst your entire class. 

4. Reteaching & Remediation

Don't you find it so frustrating when a student is seriously struggling to remember how to complete a particular type of problem, knowing that they had mastered it two months prior?  Using math videos for reteaching is an excellent solution for students who need a quick refresh of the content.  My students will often go back and rewatch an old video to jog their memory and remind them of the necessary steps.  

I also had a new student move in last October.  You know what it's like getting a student in October.  You've covered so much, you have no clue what they've covered at their old school, and you have a long to-do list to manage.  I've used my old math videos to allow a new student to get caught up just a bit.  I still sit down with them and work on practicing the skill and correcting mistakes, but they never truly "miss" valuable instruction.  

I have a few more posts that might interest you if you are looking to add math videos to your routines or instruction! 

I'm also working to on creating mini units that contain math videos to deliver instruction, centers for practicing the skill, task cards for small groups, fun printables, and post assessments.  Check out the entire product line by clicking the image above! :)

Accommodations vs. Modifications: What is the difference?

Accommodations and modifications are two VERY different things, however, the terms are often used synonymously.  And I'll seriously be honest, it just drives be bonkers! At the end of last year, I sat in several transition conferences for some of my students who were headed to middle school.  Repeatedly, I was asked, "What modifications do you make for this student?"  And repeatedly, I would say, "Absolutely nothing."  Here's why.

Modifications are WHAT, whereas accommodations are HOW.  

If you are making modifications for a student in your classroom or on your caseload, you are changing WHAT the student is expected to do.  

In fifth grade, the ability to multiply and divide fluently is the expectation for all of my students, regardless of their ability.  I teach fifth-grade, general education.  I am required to follow the state standards, and regardless of a disability, these students and I must put forth our best effort to see that they learn these basic computation needs.  Although some students may seriously struggle with this skill, I am not changing WHAT my students will be learning.  How do we do this?  Well, we use accommodations!

Accommodations allow students to accomplish grade level expectations with the help of an outside tool or resource.  

Using the above example, students with disabilities often struggle to complete fifth-grade computation.  They need additional assistance to help them be successful.  In my classroom, I make use of an accommodation that allows them to access their own resource.  I have my students create a multiplication chart of their own, where they have to write out and solve all of their multiplication facts. Then, I laminate it so they can use it all year.  Just by having their multiplication facts handy, they don't have to focus on that aspect of computation, and they can instead focus on learning the process of the algorithm. I shared this accommodation in a FB Live!

So, what's the point of this post?

I invite you to think long and hard about the things that you are doing in your classroom for your students with identified disabilities.  Are you accommodating them?   Are you allowing them to use a tool or other resource to help them accomplish grade level standards?  Or are you modifying for them?  Are you "dumbing" down the workload for them to make their life, their parents' lives, and your life easier?

Students with disabilities should still be expected to do grade level work.  Will it be challenging? Probably. In my school, I've honestly had to work to change that mindset.  For many years, students with READING disabilities were having their MATH work modified.  Ummm, when you put it in writing, you can see how that doesn't make sense, right?  In the end, having students do work that is far below their grade level is harmful long term.  Trust me as a fifth-grade teacher when I say, you aren't doing them any favors.  It is seriously crippling.

Now, what can you do to appropriately accommodate your students?  Check out the freebie above to see simple strategies for accommodating students in your classroom!

Fruit Snacks and Task Cards: A Free Math Game

Do you ever teach new skills and feel like your kids are doing amazing, only to circle back to them and realize that your kids don't "have it" like you thought they did?  That was me about a week ago.  My kids were doing great in small chunks, but their long-term retention wasn't quite there.  I wanted to slow down and spend a week just reviewing!  I just didn't feel comfortable moving on.  So, I tossed my regular routine just a bit, and we reviewed using games and activities that covered many skills.

By Friday, they were finally to the point where I felt like they were on the right track.  They may make silly mistakes here and there, but overall, they were doing great.  So, I grabbed a few boxes of fruit snacks from Walmart, and I was ready to engage my students in a fun review activity.

I prepared a basket for each table in my classroom.  I used colored paper that coordinated with each of the fruit snack colors.  I printed a set of task cards on each color.  For example, I printed adding mixed numbers on red paper, subtracting mixed numbers on green paper, and so on.  Each color had its own fractional skill that we had reviewed throughout the week.

Then, I passed out a pack of fruit snacks to each student.  It was their job to open their fruit snacks, sort their colors, and work out a problem that matched each fruit snack.  After they completed the problem, they could eat the fruit snack and move on to the next problem.

In the end, most students worked out 8-9 problems, depending on their fruit snack packet.  My kids found it hilarious that they might have four of one color and only one of another.  Someone else at their table might have several of a completely different color.  It made each student's work unique and engaging.  It was definitely a fun way to review!

You could use this activity with fruit snacks like I did or any other candy that you'd like.  I have recording pages for both!  Grab them for free by clicking the picture above! :)

I have math task cards for nearly every skill that I teach throughout the school year!  Click the image above to see all of my math task cards.

Struggling Readers: Three of the Most Common Reading Challenges

Today's post is all about our struggling readers.  We've all had them.  We all want to do our best to help them.  But sometimes, that is easier said than done.  To begin to help our struggling readers, we have to begin by identifying their greatest need.  For most readers, they are struggling in one of three areas.

Struggle #1: Sight Words

One of the most common struggles that students have lies in their ability to recall basic sight words.  We have students begin memorizing words in primary grades, because we all know that some words just cannot be stretched out.  No matter how long you spend stretching out the word WAS, you are never ever going to get it right.  Because of this, we have to help our students memorize those dreaded words.

As you likely already know, your brain has two hemispheres.  Each side of the brain has its own role while reading.  The right side of the brain houses the visual aspect of reading, such as seeing a word and realizing that it is familiar.  The left side of the brain controls the auditory functions, which is where the name of the word is stored.  If these two portions of the brain are not connecting and functioning simultaneously, students will struggle to recall or verbalize the word.   

Ideas for helping students who struggle with sight words:

Struggle #2: Decoding

Decoding difficulties are the mystery of the learning disability area.  At this time, the reason or cause of this struggle is unknown.  However, the effects on reading are huge.  I love this exercise from Misunderstood Minds that allows you to experience the effects of decoding struggles.  Wow!  I was able to decode it, but geeez! It took me forever.  I was constantly stretch, stretch, stretching each word.  I had to go back and restretch many of the words to ensure my accuracy.  I had a hard time recalling the sounds and would have to look at the key.  In real life, there would likely NOT be a key to help guide me.  

Ideas for helping students who struggle with decode:

Struggle #3: Reading Comprehension

We all have those readers that read fluently.  Their reading sounds so beautiful.  They can read every word on the page with ease.  Then, you ask them a comprehension question.  You have to try to hide your shock at their seemingly random answer.  You want to ask, "Ummm, did we read the same passage?"  Sadly, they aren't being silly.  They truly struggled to actually comprehend the passage that they read so beautifully.

There are MANY factors that impact reading comprehension.  This is actually one of my favorite areas to address.  Struggles in reading comprehension occur typically because of an inability to naturally do one or more of the comprehension skills that we routinely teach.  Visualizing is the number one comprehension strategy that students are unable to do.  For me, I visualize like no other.  If I'm reading a novel, I become the main character.  I dream about what I believe will happen in the next chapter.  I can't get "out" of the story.  Maybe that's why I love to read so much.  However, some of our kids are not able to visualize at all.  Can you imagine why they hate to read?!

In addition to visualization difficulties, students could be struggling with unfamiliar vocabulary, figurative language, the ability to multitask (thinking while reading), or poor working memory.  

Ideas for helping students who struggle with reading compehension:

If you're looking at assess the comprehension of your students, check out this FREEBIE!  I have two versions for upper and lower elementary.  You can choose the one that fits your classroom needs! 

I also use these progress monitoring forms to assess the three areas that I described above.  In this set, I have forms for assessing both Dolch and Fry sight words as well as decoding CVC, CVCe, and long vowel teams.  

Visualizing Tubes: A Free Activity for Introducing Visualization

This year, I've been working to integrate multiple subjects into our daily activities.  Today, I want to quickly share a fun activity that is perfect for both reading and writing.  Our reading strategy this week is visualization, and we began writing personal narratives last week.  I wanted an activity that would introduce visualization, yet give my students a chance to enhance their writing.  

I placed a bag in each corner of my classroom and divided my students into four random groups.  Each group pulled out their object and used their visualizing tubes to really scope out the mystery object inside their bag.  They used the graphic organizer to describe how the object looked, tasted, felt, smelled, and sounded.  

After several minutes, we all returned to our seats and took turns describing each of the objects.  While each group shared their description, the students at their seats were attempting to draw what was being described aloud.  

Some of their visualizations were spot on {number two was the sand paper block}, while others were way off {number one should have been a scarf}.  

During the last part of the activity, I allowed each student to wonder the room and secretly check out each item.  It was their job to attempt to describe the object BETTER than the original group.  The challenge was totally accepted by all! They were using similies and incredible adjectives to do a better job of describing the objects in each bag.

This was my favorite picture from today's activity!  I was seriously wondering if I was crazy to ALLOW my kids to roll up a piece of paper and use it as a telescope, but it seriously worked to my advantage today.