Differentiation and Intervention
Two terms that we often use in schools when we talk about teaching practices are “differentiation” and “intervention.” But there can be some confusion around these terms. What’s the difference between the two?
When we think of differentiation, we’re talking about student-specific efforts that teachers take to foster grade-level annual growth. In other words, it’s what you do every day in the classroom to help an individual student or multiple individual students get, or stay, on-track to reach the end-of-year learning goals.
An intervention, however, is an additional instructional resource or support (beyond the high-quality classroom instruction that all students receive) that is aligned to a student’s needs. It is a student-specific effort designed to foster grade-level catch up.
The concept of growth is the key that distinguishes intervention from differentiation, because the latter focuses on day-to-day practices for all students to reach grade-level annual learning goals. Since intervention focuses on helping kids catch up so they can be on-track, it is something that we use with selected students who need it.
In technicality, intervention requires accelerated learning, since accumulating learning at a faster rate helps the student to catch up. That is the situation many teachers and students will be faced with in this particular academic year. It seems that students have returned to school not on a par with the learning they would’ve received in previous years because they missed out on a lot of instruction as a result of the pandemic.
Is Intervention Meant Only for Tier 2 or 3 Students?
This is a common misconception, but the truth is you can also do intervention at Tier 1. In fact, it’s a really important strategy for teachers to know about and use right now, as educators are going to have more students who need more help.
Essentially, one way to do Tier 1 intervention is through intensification of instruction. (This can be done for some or all students.) Here you should consider the 80% rule: if less than 80% of your students in a class are meeting a learning goal, it’s recommended to intensify for all the students. Research shows this is going to benefit the students who are further behind—without holding back or delaying the learning of students who are already on-track or ahead.
But when you have 80% or more kids who’ve reached a benchmark, it might make more sense to provide interventions on a small group basis for some students, simply because the need is different. Overall, it’s a matter of using resources as effectively as possible.
The Concept of Intensification in Tier 1 Interventions
Intensification is any teaching practice that is designed to accelerate learning. It’s a way of helping students engage in catch-up growth by providing more opportunities for learning in order to catch up.
Here, I’m going to suggest four key ways that we can help students through intensification. These are the frequency of lessons, the ratio of lessons, student opportunities to practice, and group size.
1) Frequency of Lessons
This is literally the number of lessons per week. What we know is that with more days of learning (or lessons per week), more learning happens. The more we can ensure that students are participating in targeted instruction on a daily basis, the more likely they’ll be able to engage in catch-up growth.
This will have important implications as you’re thinking about your schedules, whether you’re providing on-campus or remote instruction. The work is to figure out how to provide as many lessons as possible across instruction formats, and to help kids catch up to the learning goals.
Consider what your schedule looks like right now. Are there ways to add more days with a greater frequency of lessons?
2) Duration of Lessons
Related to the frequency is the duration of lessons. This is essentially the lesson length. Based on research about time on task, it’s a tried-and-true finding that more minutes are going to equal more learning. Here you have to consider how many minutes have been allocated for instruction, and what you can do to maximize that time for student learning.
Certainly, in the present time, there are unique factors to consider due to online or remote instruction. It’s understandable that few students can sit still in front of a computer for extended periods of time (especially for younger students). So, how you organize the minutes now might have to shift from how you’ve done it in the past. Instead of longer continuous sessions, this could mean that you need to host both morning and afternoon online sessions in order to meet the required number of minutes.
3) Opportunities to Practice
Opportunities to practice allow students to have the repetitions that help them get to mastery. It’s also part of making sure we have active student engagement, another aspect that has become more difficult in an online instruction environment. Finding ways to ensure that students are all actively engaged in lessons requires our creativity as teachers in order to optimize the likelihood that they will meet those learning goals.
Furthermore, we also need to be providing immediate feedback. The “honesty factor” plays a big role here because the nature of our feedback will be a predictor of whether the students will trust us. For example, if teachers were to provide only one type of feedback, whether all positive (e.g., “Awesome, great job!”) or negative (e.g., “Nope, that’s not right”), students will start to tune it out. If the feedback being provided is not in relation to actual performance, it won’t be taken seriously. (All this presupposes that not everyone is going to get things all right or wrong every single time.)
Note, if you’re finding with a given student or group that most of your feedback is, “No, that’s not right,” it means the difficulty level of the material is not matched to where the students are right now. The teacher has a responsibility to adjust the content in order for the student to have more success with that content.
4) Group Size
The issue of group size is going to be relevant regardless of whether you’re on campus or remote. But there are some students who are going to be better off in smaller groups—even before the pandemic.
Often, when we think of who might benefit from small group instruction, we think of active students who have difficulty with attention. However, there are other students who can benefit as well, particularly very quiet students who might otherwise see the opportunity to not speak (i.e., “this is a nice big group, I can hide out and I don’t have to do anything”).
So, as you think about the format in which you would be able to provide any kind of intervention activity in your Tier 1 core instruction, think about the strategic use of subgroups, such as small groups within the larger class, as a way to make sure all students can engage.
Would you like to get more in-depth on interventions and intensification? Catch a replay of our webinar by Dr. Brown.
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