FEBRUARY FEATURE STORY
Response to Intervention:
Students learn to read with attention, practice, repetition
Ally Manley, an instructional aide, guides second graders through an exercise in their reading workbooks in the Reading Lab classroom at Kalmiopsis Elementary School.
On a recent rainy Friday morning, soon after the first bell rang at Kalmiopsis Elementary School, the kid-sized seats in the Reading Lab classroom filled with smiling, energetic second graders. But unlike most classrooms at the school, this one had a cadre of teachers and instructional aides - six in all.
In the back corner, a young boy started a one-on-one session with an instructor, who performed a careful assessment of his reading skills.
Soon, chanting filled the room as teachers coaxed and coached students through reading workbooks and short stories in small groups at tables throughout the room.
“The next word is ‘people,’” sang out instructional assistant Kristi Oliphant to a table of students.
“People,” the students said back in unison.
“What's the word?”
“Spell the word, P-E-O-P-L-E.”
(Fingers traced letters in workbooks, as students followed along, mouthing the letters).
“Read the word: ‘people.’”
“Some students need upwards of 200 repetitions to learn a new word,” Principal Helena Chirinian said.
In short, the team’s job is to teach struggling students to read -- one skill that can have a transformative effect on a student’s learning and life. The school uses a data-based approach, approved by the state, and adds in a lot of patience and passion to get youngsters excited about opening their books.
In turns throughout the day, students get the special attention that the Brookings-Harbor School District hopes will catapult their reading skills to the next level. After school releases for the day at 2:15 p.m., some fourth and fifth graders read from 2 to 3 p.m. before catching the late bus.
“Intervening at upper grades is more time consuming,” Principal Chirinian said.
Time is key part of the program. Ideally, students are read to frequently at home and practice reading skills outside the classroom, but it’s not always a reality. Students need the benefits of being at school, and the extra minutes of focus on on reading skills add up and can make a big difference in a child’s progression and academic success by the time they reach high school, Chirinian explained.
“Across the district, as across Oregon, too many kids are chronically absent,” Principal Chirinian said. “We need to change the culture … younger kids, if they aren't here, it's not the kid who is the issue.”
The RTI program started in Oregon in 2005, and 84 school districts across the state run a version of the program, now in it’s 11th year. Statewide goals of the program include closing the achievement gap that exists with historically underserved student groups, and to provide a framework to identify students with specific learning disabilities.
Brookings-Harbor has been running a Response to Intervention reading program since 2013, and receives some RTI grant money, $3,500 to $5,000 per year, that is used to send teachers and instructors to trainings or to host in-service opportunities on literacy work for the school’s teachers.
The Response to Intervention classroom is lead by certified teachers Nicole Heath and Sally Gallagher, with a team of five full-time instructional assistants and six part-time instructional assistants. Some have been instructional assistants for the district for more than 20 years.
Every single student who is part of the program has a progress report that is frequently updated and referred to. There is a check-in on reading skills at least every two weeks to make sure that each student is making progress. Individual plans are matched to student need, and progress is monitored frequently to make decisions about the best way to proceed.
If a student’s progress lags and drops below the progress goal line on their chart, then the student is given more time in the program and additional 1:1 coaching. The instructors communicate with parents about the data.
“There is nothing more powerful than providing students with the foundation for future success in reading. It paces the road to high school graduation,” Principal Chirinian said.