By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Thursday, September 6, 2012

RtI Beyond Students

The big ideas behind RtI seem to be that to improve the performance (ie, change the behavior) of an underperforming student, do these things:

  • Have a list of pre-defined interventions to apply
  • The interventions vary by area (academic, behavioral, social, disabilities, etc.) and vary in intensity (tier I, II, III)
  • When a problem with a student is identified, get explicit about current performance and goal performance
  • Prescribe interventions to achieve the goal performance in a specified period of time
  • The teacher logs when the interventions are applied (and records additional comments)
  • At the end of the specified time period, reassess the student's performance. Based on the results, adjust the interventions, set new goals and a new review date
Why? RtI is there to change students' habits (behaviors), and habits are hard to change. Some of the things we know about changing habits are
  • Habitual routines are reinforced each time they are repeated. Reduce the frequency of repeating the habit and you reduce the strength of the habit.
  • Habits are consciously activated by triggers: conditions, events, feelings, etc. that start the habitual routine going. Avoiding the triggers can help reduce the frequency of repeating the habit.
  • Habits are automatic routines. But it is possible to substitute a new, positive routine for an old detrimental routine.
  • Old habits don't go away but are replaced with new ones. There are two implications: the old habit is still there ready to be triggered and the new replacement habit becomes stronger through (lots of) repetition.  
  • The most common reason that attempts to change habits fail is that the replacement habit is not repeated enough times to replace the old habit. That is where logging and coaching comes in: they help keep the need to replace the old habit with the new in one's awareness until sufficient repetitions has made the new habit automatic.
To the extent that RtI is effective for improving student performance, shouldn't it also be effective for improving staff and personal performance? Should we have RtI systems to help administrators work with problems with teachers or other staff members? Staff RtI would not only document attempts to turn around an underperforming teacher but would help in improving that teacher's problem habits.
Would RtI systems help in changing personal habits? Important elements in quitting smoking are avoiding triggers such as nicotine cravings (with Chantix) or social smoking (avoiding hanging out with smokers). Weight loss goals are often missed by not sticking with the program long enough to change habits. Having explicit weight loss strategies (meal planning, etc.), exercise strategies and logging and coaching/buddies are among the practices most highly correlated with success.
Should we think if RtI beyond its application to student performance?

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Keywords: RtI

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